TITLE RACE BACK ON AS RAITH WIN
Two first-half goals saw Raith ease past Queen’s Park with a routine win at Stark’s Park, as drama elsewhere saw fresh life injected into the League One championship campaign. Strikes from Bobby Barr and Dario Zanatta, together with Stranraer’s defeat of Ayr United, saw Raith climb to within two points of their rivals for automatic promotion to the Scottish Championship.
Rovers scored early, and – despite some neat attacking play and no little effort from the visitors – looked a step ahead of their opponents in every department. The Stark’s Park faithful headed home happy, with next week’s trip to Stair Park offering Raith the chance to top the table once again, before Ayr next kick-off at Alloa on Sunday.
On a lovely sunny afternoon, the first signs of Spring brought five changes to the Raith line-up – Willis Furtado, Regan Hendry, and Ross Matthews dropped to the bench, with both Kyle Benedictus and keeper Aaron Lennox out of the squad altogether. Herron and Robertson would sit at the base of midfield, with McHattie and Barr on the left, and Thomson and Zanatta on the right. Buchanan was furthest forward, with Lewis Vaughan in support. Buchanan tested visiting keeper White’s reflexes in the first minute, with a flashing drive well saved.
With Queen’s first attack, a deep corner from youngster Aiden Keena was poked wide by Cummings, under pressure from Davidson and Murray. An early goal would have suited the Spiders, who arrived in Kirkcaldy without their troubles to seek. Level on points with Albion Rovers, and facing a relegation play-off at best, manager Gus MacPherson made three changes from last week’s odd-goal-in-five defeat at home to East Fife. Luke Donnelly and Thomas Orr were both named as substitutes, with McLaughlin dropping out; Cummings, Brady, and centre-half Magee were all drafted in.
In the shade on the Railway Stand side, McHattie showed himself a willing runner on the Rovers left; equally, Gibson and Burns looked to make ground on the visitors’ left in the opening minutes. McHattie’s inside ball allowed Vaughan to play in Buchanan on five minutes – the pass fell just beyond the Raith frontman and out of play.
On nine minutes, relief for the home fans with a straightforward opener for Raith – as Herron found Thomson wide on the right, the Raith full-back had time to cross deep to the far post. Bobby Barr’s composed first-time finish across White found the corner of the net. With no pressure on the ball in midfield, and their defensive marking scheme exposed so early, the portents were not good for the visitors.
With eighteen minutes on the clock, Barr worked an opportunity to cross on his left foot, but Buchanan was unable to generate enough power on his header to trouble White. Zanatta was next to show, turning inside Gibson but unable to control his shot on goal. Herron was clattered by Fotheringham in midfield, and Magee saw yellow for holding back Vaughan after a neat turn.
Vaughan and Buchanan again fashioned a chance with half-an-hour on the clock – the Raith number 10’s return pass not matching his colleague’s dart beyond Magee. With Queens’ first attacking sortie since the opening stages, McVey stole down the right, his centre whizzing across Smith’s radar but finding no takers.
With ten minutes to half-time, Raith were still well on top, but with little further to show for their early promise. Buchanan buzzed around the back four, constantly seeking to draw Magee into a challenge – the Queens defender on a yellow already. For the visitors, attacking Raith’s left was yielding some dividend – Burns released Brady over half-way, and Galt was unlucky to slip as he looked to turn Davidson.
With thirty-eight minutes gone, a lovely individual goal to put Raith two up. With Thomson and Galt skirmishing deep in Queens’ territory, Dario Zanatta turned inside and with his left foot stroked a delightful curling finish high to White’s right-hand side from twenty yards.
With a minute to go to the interval, Thomson raced Galt to the touchline, crossing for Buchanan whose flashing header struck White’s bar with the visiting keeper at full-stretch – Rovers’ claims for a corner a compliment to White’s athleticism.
Galt’s deflected free-kick, well gathered by Smith, was all Queens could muster in response before the half, and trooped off despondently at referee Newlands’ whistle. For Rovers, with players fully committed but supporters no doubt keeping half an eye on events at Somerset Park, the interval was greeted with a roar of approval.
Two goals down, the visitors started the second-half on the front foot – Brady’s dipping drive tested Smith to the limit. Right-winger Leitch had been introduced for Magee at the interval, giving more numbers upfront and quicker support to Galt and Keena. Two early corners demanded the careful attention of the Raith rearguard.
With Herron struggling following his first-half clatter from Fotheringham, Ross Matthews was introduced early in the second period. The play had become more scrappy, with less of a flow through midfield – if anything, Queens had the better of it as the second half progressed. Brady’s cross was bundled just wide by Cummings, and sub Leitch asked questions driving at McHattie and Barr on Raith’s left. Thomson and Aiden Keena regularly battled down the right flank, the Rovers full-back retaining the upper hand despite the Queens’ youngster’s best endeavours.
Raith’s first second-half chance came on the hour – Buchanan battled gamely, creating space for Barr to cross; his inswinger finding Vaughan with a step on the taller Millen. The Raith striker’s header thumped White’s cross-bar. Two corners followed, with Zanatta, Vaughan, and Buchanan each twisting and turning, seeking room to shoot. Buchanan was tugged by Millen on the turn – referee Newlands saw nothing amiss. The Raith striker’s driven cross was well-held under pressure by White moments later.
Queens responded – a deep cross fell in the Raith area, with Galt and Brady both in attendance; Thomson cleared off the Raith line with Davidson completing the clearance. Robertson blocked well as Cummings looked to strike on goal. With sixty-six minutes on the clock and despite the score-line, there was still a game on, and still work for Raith to do to secure all three points.
With Barr and Zanatta swapping sides, Raith sought to ask fresh questions of the visitors. Barr’s work in midfield allowed Thomson to cross – Zanatta, already on the floor following a forceful enquiry from Millen, howled for a penalty, disbelieving. Referee Newlands offered his sympathies, but little else.
With Magee off and left-back Gibson moving into the centre, Queens’ Sean Burns was having a torrid second-half as a makeshift defender. Barr’s clever running and Jason Thomson’s charges from deep were a constant threat. Vaughan narrowly failed to connect with one Thomson centre on seventy-three minutes.
With quarter of an hour to go, a let-off for Raith – Keena was quickest to react after a knock-down from Galt’s corner, Davidson blocking a goal-bound effort. Fotheringham’s cross was well headed clear by Murray, with Keena saw a strike blocked by a sprawling Davidson. Gus MacPherson introduced Donnelly and Orr, both proven goal-scorers this season, sensing Raith had taken their foot off the pedal.
Barry Smith shuffled his pack too, bringing on both Regan Hendry and Willis Furtado with eight minutes remaining – Vaughan and Buchanan making way. The Frenchman made an immediate impact, bullying his way through a weak Fotheringham challenge, and thumping into Cummings, winning a free-kick in the process – the South Stand roaring its approval. Cummings swiped again at Furtado minutes later, referee Newlands again siding with the Raith striker.
As news of a late Agnew penalty for Stranraer at Somerset Park filtered through the crowd, thoughts were no doubt drifting to next week’s trip to Stair Park as this match petered out to its conclusion. Man-of-the-match Dario Zanatta danced along the touchline, turning Millen inside-out, firing a low shot at White’s near-post – the keeper held his ground well. Matthews’ glancing header forced another fine save, denying Raith a third to cap off an impressive win.
As the final whistle blew, Raith fans sang their way home – fresh life injected into the League campaign, two points down but with two matches still to play.
Rovers gaffer Barry Smith was happy with the 2 – 0 victory over The Spiders
It’ll now take a sudden and unexpected loss of form from Ayr United for Raith Rovers to be able to win the League One title, after last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Arbroath saw them slide five points behind the Honest Men with just three games remaining.
However, while they’re heavily reliant on favours from others, they’ll also need to win their trio of fixtures to stand any chance, starting with this Saturday’s home tie with Queen’s Park.
Gus MacPherson’s team are currently bottom of the third tier table, and while Forfar look unassailable in eighth place, seven points clear of the Hampden side, only goal difference separates them from Albion Rovers, who currently reside in the relegation playoff spot.
Rovers have a one hundred percent record against Queen’s Park this term, and if they win at the weekend, it’ll be the second side they’ve completed a clean sweep over, after East Fife.
The first match at the national stadium in September was a fairly comfortable affair, although the 5-0 scoreline was a little harsh on the home side.
Rovers were two up within seven minutes, after goals from Liam Buchanan and Lewis Vaughan, while second half efforts from Dario Zanatta, Bobby Barr and Jason Thomson completed the scoring.
It was a far tighter affair at Stark’s Park in February, as Rovers eventually made the breakthrough during the second period, with Zanatta and Thomson scoring within a few minutes of each other in a 2-0 win.
Rovers made another whirlwind start at Hampden Park in February, leading 3-0 after half-an-hour, with goals from Euan Murray, Willis Furtado and Buchanan, but a goal from Aidan Keena completed the scoring in a 3-1 away win.
It’s been just over ten years since Raith last lost to Queen’s Park, a 1-0 defeat at Stark’s Park in March 2008. It was a season where Raith would finish third behind Airdrie and champions Ross County, before losing to the Diamonds in the playoffs.
Since then, Rovers have won eight straight matches against the Spiders, conceding just twice in the process.
Saturday’s match referee will be Alan Newlands.
Head-To-Head Home League Record:
Raith Rovers Wins: 22 | Queen’s Park Wins: 10 | Draws: 10
Raith Rovers Goals: 85 | Queen’s Park Goals: 53
Raith Rovers: L-L-W-W-W-D
Queen’s Park: L-D-W-L-D-L
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 22 | Liam Buchanan 13 | Greig Spence 13
Queen’s Park: Adam Cummins 10 | Aidan Keena 8 | Luke Donnelly 5
Raith Rovers: 2/7 | Queen’s Park: 9/1 | Draw: 5/1